Blue Ridge Center
for environmental stewardship
preserve ~ experience ~ enjoy

Land & Nature

The Blue Ridge Center developed a long-term plan for our land's stewardship after a comprehensive, two year ecological and conservation study.  If you'd like to "read deep" about our land management philosophy, download our Conservation Management Plan.

Explore the sections below to learn more about the land and nature being preserved at the Blue Ridge Center:



The Blue Ridge Center sits on the westernmost edge of the Piedmont region of northern Virginia, at the narrowing north end of a valley known as "Between the Hills." The land is 20 miles from both Leesburg, VA and Frederick, MD, and 2 miles south of Harpers Ferry, WV, where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge.

To the west, the Blue Ridge rises to roughly 1,000 feet and is capped by the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. To the east, the property ends at Virginia Route 671, a road that runs the valley floor north-to-south. Further east is Short Hill Mountain.

The lands of the Blue Ridge Center include young recovering upland forest, wetlands, bottomland, meadows, farmland, ponds, and streams. Upland areas are rugged with rocky outcrops. Several springs originate within the property and drain into Sweet Run and Piney Run, which in turn empty into the Potomac River. Elevations on the land range from 500 feet to 1,000 feet above sea level. The underlying valley geology consists of hornblende gneiss.

The farmland portion of the property has, for decades, been planted in corn and soy beans after a much longer history as a dairy farm. Some parts of the upland forest were logged as recently as 1995, and these areas are laced with a network of haul roads. The ridgeline section of the land has remained untouched since being logged in the 1800s, and consists of a maturing oak-poplar forest.

The woodlands are rich with life, with many native species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Having been introduced intentionally or accidentally, invasive species such as garlic mustard and multiflora rose are intermixed with native plants.

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The Blue Ridge Center is located in the Potomac Watershed, a region covering more than 14,670 square miles. The Potomac River is 383 miles long and breaks through the Blue Ridge Mountains at Harpers Ferry. This is where Piney Run, which drains the land of the Blue Ridge Center, empties into the river at Potomac Wayside, downriver from Harpers Ferry.

Piney Run is fed by one major tributary, Sweet Run, which drains from the Blue Ridge's eastern ridgeline. Both Piney Run and Sweet Run are remarkably diverse and are inhabited by numerous species of fish.  A smaller, unnamed seasonal run drains west from Short Hill Mountain and converges with Piney Run on our land. A variety of seeps, perennial springs, and seasonal streams feed Piney Run and its tributaries.

The streams, ponds, and wetlands of the Blue Ridge Center host a large number of reptiles and amphibians, including the Virginia-listed threatened wood turtle. The range of water habitats also ensures insect and bird diversity. Good water quality is essential to healthy ecological systems. Industrial pollutants, agricultural and residential runoff, septic system leakage and acid rain can all contribute to water quality decline. The Blue Ridge Center waterways benefit from regular monitoring, sampling, and testing by a number of our educational partners.

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Geology first shaped the land at the Blue Ridge Center. Topography, rocks, soils, and drainage help determine the nature of ecological systems and the unfolding patterns of human exploration, settlement, and land use. The Blue Ridge Center's research explores the interrelated web of geological, environmental, and human forces that have shaped ongoing relationships on our land.

The land of the Blue Ridge Center is part of the Harpers Ferry quadrangle, covering a portion of the Blue Ridge-South Mountain area. Elevations range from 500 ft. on the eastern edge to nearly 1,000 ft. atop the ridgeline.

The Blue Ridge consists of up-thrust belts of rock that have been subjected to intense metamorphic deformation, and a bedrock of sandstone, metabasalt, and gneiss underlies the Blue Ridge Center property. Through time, these materials erode, sloughing off the main ridges in blocks and plates. The western half of our property, as a result, is composed of steep ledges surrounded by immense fields of jagged boulders. The thin rocky soils of these upland zones give way to the richer top soils in the bottomland and riparian environment found along Piney Run.

The Blue Ridge Mountain's oldest rock is Proterozoic gneiss and igneous intrusives that have been intensively folded and faulted. As in many places along the Blue Ridge, this crushed and distorted older rock is thrust-faulted up and over younger rock. Ancient layered bedrock outcrops can be seen in northern Virginia and on South Mountain in Maryland. Both the summit of South Mountain and the Blue Ridge of Virginia are composed mostly of quartzite and greenstone.

Visit the U.S. Geological Survey website for maps and reports on lands surrounding the Blue Ridge Center.

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In our region, the present climate is temperate with four distinct seasons. Virginia's average temperature varies from 36 degrees Fahrenheit during winter months, to mid 50's in spring and fall, to mid 70's in summer. Virginia's average annual total precipitation is 44 inches. The state's average annual snowfall varies form 9 to 27 inches, all according to the Virginia Climatology Office.

This temperate climate, with its balance of hot and cold, wet and dry weather, largely determines our region's flora and fauna. It prevents the 900 acres at the Blue Ridge Center from turning into searing desert, rainforest, or frigid tundra. Oaks and hickories, white-tail deer, black bears (and local humans, for that matter) have all adapted themselves well to living in Virginia's temperate zone.

However, the moderate climate we take for granted today is very different from our region's past climates. Over the last few million years, climate conditions in Virginia have ranged from the subtropical to the sub-arctic. Flora and fauna appropriate to those ancient climates evolved on the landscape during each of those climactic periods. For example, cold-loving mastodons probably roamed Loudoun county at the height of the last Ice Age, just 18,000 years ago.

Climate is so powerful in the long term that it actually counteracts the gargantuan mountain building forces of geology. In Loudoun county, for example, climate acting over millions of years whittled away the ancient Appalachian Mountain chain, cutting down what some scientists say were 30,000 foot peaks (as high as today's Himalayans) to the current size of the Blue Ridge in northern Virginia undefined just over 1,000 feet above sea level.

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Flora & Fauna

Fifteen distinct habitats have been surveyed at the Blue Ridge Center, ranging from a maturing chestnut oak ridgetop forest, to young recovering upland and riparian forests.

Loudoun county is in a transitional zone, and our land represents a rich mix of northern and southern trees. The primary forest community type on the property is the mixed mesophytic forest, with tulip poplar, a variety of oaks, and maples and hickory types numbering among the dominant tree species. Common understory species include slippery elm, beech, dogwood, and redbud. The typical shrub layer includes spice bush, blackberry, with some mountain laurel. Bottomland is inhabited by typical wetland species such as sycamore and buttonbush. Wildflowers identified include naked leaved pink trefoil and velvet leaf.

Numbering among the most common invasive plants are ailanthus (tree of heaven), Chinese sumac, white mulberry, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, barberry, multiflora rose, and spotted knapweed.

The table below inventories the flora and fauna at the Blue Ridge Center:

Botanical/Vegetative Baseline Inventory
* denotes non-native species
Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides
Norway Spruce* Picea abies
Virginia Pine Pinus virginiana
White Pine Pinus strobus
Eastern Hemlock Tsuga canadensis
Dicot Trees, Shrubs & Woody Vines
Boxelder Acer negundo
Norway Maple* Acer platanoides
Red Maple Acer rubrum
Silver Maple Acer saccharinum
Tree-of-Heaven* Ailanthus altissima
Hazel Alder Alnus serrulata
Ironwood Carpinus caroliniana
Pignut Hickory Carya glabra
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
Hackberry Celtis occidentalis
Redbud Cercis canadensis
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida
American Beech Fagus grandifolia
White Ash Fraxinus americana
Common Witchhazel Hamamelis virginiana
Black Walnut Juglans nigra
Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia
Spicebush Lindera benzoin
Tulip Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera
White Mulberry Morus alba
Japanese Honeysuckle* Lonicera japonica
Scentless Mock Orange Philadelphus inodorus
Eastern Sycamore Platanus occidentalis
Black Cherry Prunus serotina
White Oak Quercus alba
Chestnut Oak Quercus montana
Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina
Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia
Carolina Rose Rosa carolina
Multiflora Rose* Rosa multiflora
Black Raspberry Rubus sp.
Blackberry Rubus sp.
Raspberry Rubus sp.
Sassafras Sassafras albidum
American Basswood Tilia americana
Slippery Elm Ulmus americana
Nannyberry Viburnum lentago
Lowbush Blueberry Vaccinium vacillans
Grasses, Sedges
Not yet inventoried
Herbaceous plants
Velvet Leaf Abutilon theophrasti
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Wingstem Actinomeris alternifolia
Agrimony Agrimonia sp.
Garlic Mustard* Alliaria officinalis
Wild Onion* Allium stellatum
Scarlet Pimpernal Anagallis arvensis
Jack-in-the-Pulpit Arisaema triphyllum
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
Poke Milkweed Asclepias exaltata
Tickseed-Sunflower Bidens aristosa
Wild Sensitive-plant Cassia nictitans
Spotted Knapweed* Centaurea maculosa
Spotted Wintergreen Chimaphila maculata
Ox-eyed Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum
Chicory* Cichorium intybus
Bull Thistle* Cirsium vulgare
Virgin's-Bower Clematis virginiana
Asiatic Dayflower* Commelina communis
Field Bindweed Convulvulus arvensis
Queen Anne's Lace* Daucus carota
Naked-leaved Pink Trefoil Desmodium nudiflorum
Deptford Pink* Dianthus armeria
Wild Yam Dioscorea villosa
Indian Strawberry* Duchesnea indica
Fleabane Erigeron annuus
Horseweed Erigeron canadensis
Common Fleabane Erigeron philadelphicos
Common Strawberry Fragaria virginiana
Cranesbill Geranium Geranium sp.
Rough Avens Geum virginianum
Bowman's Root Gillenia trifoliate
Ground Ivy* Glechoma hederacea
King Devil Hieracium pratense
Dwarf St. John's Wort Hypericum mutilum
Ivy-Leaved Morning-Glory Ipomoea hederacea
Wild Potato Vine Ipomoea pandurata
Blue Lettuce Lactuca sp.
Butter and Eggs* Linaria vulgaris
Great Lobelia Lobelia siphilitica
Indian Tobacco Lobelia inflata
White Sweet Clover* Melilotus alba
Yellow Sweet Clover* Melilotus officinalis
Sharp-winged Monkey Flower Mimulus alatus
Indian Pipe Monotropa uniflora
Common Evening-Primrose Oenothera biennis
Yellow Wood Sorrel Oxalis stricta
Foxglove Beardtongue Penstemon digitalis
Garden Phlox Phlox paniculata
Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius
Pokeweed Phytolacca americana
Common Plantain Plantago major
Mayapple Podophyllum peltatum
Halberd-leaved Tearthumb Polygonum arifolium
Lady's Thumb Smartweed Polygonum persicaria
Strawberry Weed* Potentilla norvegica
Rough-fruited Cinquefoil Potentilla recta
Common Cinquefoil Potentilla simplex
Heal-all Prunella vulgaris
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
Thin-leaved Sunflower Rudbeckia triloba
Bouncing Bet Saponaria officinalis
Wild Basil Satureja vulgaris
Showy Skullcap Scutellaria serrata
Bur-Cucumber Sicyos angulatus
Blue-eyed Grass Sisyrinchium sp.
Horse Nettle Solanum carolinense
Spiny-leaved Sow Thistle Sonchus asper
Venus's Looking Glass Specularia perfoliata
Skunk Cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus
Common Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Virginia Knotweed Tovara virginiana
Hop Clover Trifolium agrarium
Red Clover Trifolium pratense
Smaller Hop Clover Trifolium procumbens
White Clover Trifolium repens
Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica
Common Mullien Verbascum thapsus
White Vervain Verbena urticifolia

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Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship

11661 Harpers Ferry Rd.

Purcellville, VA  20132



The Blue Ridge Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by donations

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